By Rachel Tennenbaum

THE ASTONISHMENT OF SPRING<br/>Though the world is in tatters<br/>and I am afraid<br/>the young deer crosses the road<br/>and in the field of blackbirds<br/>there is singing

In the seventh year of the Bush administration and the fourth year of the Iraq invasion, in addition to global warming and poor international relations, it is not surprising that looking to the outside world is an option often ignored. And even if one is not afraid of the mess happening on an international scale, at times the world is just too far away to care.

Though it’s now autumn and not spring, Santa Cruz poet Patrice Vecchione skillfully captures a duality that is present in the lives of many of us: the horror of global catastrophe, often quite distant, softened by the everyday beauty of our lives.

How does one reconcile this gap? Elicit empathy? Or worse, tackle apathy?

Camille Krilanovich is an artist who has refused to turn away from the atrocities happening overseas and is working on creating peace at home. Last year she began the Living Memorials Tattoo Project, which is changing the face of art and peace.

*The Living Memorials Tattoo Project*

&#8220;Hashim Al-Kashali. He was a Shiite clergyman and he died in random gunfire on my birthday,&#8221; said Katie Gray, artist and a participant in the Living Memorials Tattoo Project. The name of this Iraqi man is spelled backwards on the top of her foot, the black courier font striking against her white skin. Katie covers up her foot with a sock and slips it back into her shoe.

Gray is a part of the Living Memorials Tattoo Project, started by artist Camille Krilanovich in 2006.

Krilanovich began the project as part of her graduation requirement when she was an art major at UC Santa Cruz, in the hopes of combining her passion for art and social change.

&#8220;I was thinking about my senior project, and I knew I wanted to do something political,&#8221; Krilanovich said. &#8220;How am I going to say what I want to say? I wanted to get people thinking. And I was tattooing at the same time and I wanted to get that involved.&#8221;

Krilanovich was inspired by an article she had read on tattooing words on the body, as well as a woman who had done a performance piece in which she tattooed the names of gay and lesbian hate crime victims on her body. She compiled the ideas into one theme and presented it to her class.

&#8220;I guess I just like the permanence of it, and the reality of it,&#8221; Krilanovich said. &#8220;I think it really pushed it, someone’s name in your skin; it bleeds, it hurts and it’s really personal. People go through all kinds of feelings when they get a tattoo. I think I needed something thatwas heavy enough.&#8221;

When the art department’s Open Studios came around, Krilanovich actually set up a table and tattooed people during the show.

Gray and Dee Ann Larson are both UCSC graduates who studied with Krilanovich in the art department and participated in the Living Memorials project.

&#8220;The whole concept, the fact that it was civilian innocent deaths that really hit home for me, because that could be us,&#8221; Gray said. &#8220;We have the luxury of not having [war] here, where as those people did not have that choice.&#8221;

Larson agreed. &#8220;It’s kind of like the least you could do,&#8221; Larson said. &#8220;I feel kind of helpless in a sense when it comes to current events. So just to be able to have a part in what’s going on in a positive way, I’d like to do it.&#8221;

Larson has the name of a woman, Sa’ida Abdallah on her lower ankle. Her mother, Kat Larson, has also participated in the project.

While Dee Ann’s tattoos are hidden beneath clothing, bit of skin visible is covered with ink, from a &#8220;mom&#8221; tattoo to a brilliant fuchsia and blue piece working itself up the back of her left calf. Her memorial tattoo is honor of Kadim Sarhid, a Shiite clergyman. His name is placed below the word &#8220;family&#8221; on the inside of her right wrist.

When asked if the tattoos were meant to bond mother-daughter solidarity, the women shake their heads no.

They just both agreed strongly with the idea behind the piece. They recount stories seeking for the right name, choosing placement on the body, and lastly, the impact their pieces have had on others.

&#8220;Tattoos in general initiate positive influences, from my experience,&#8221; Kat Larson said. &#8220;Your initial group of friends and community can understand and appreciate [the piece]. I think I’ve influenced a hundred individuals or more.&#8221;

It is the interpersonal aspect of the tattoos that motivated Krilanovich.

&#8220;I feel some responsibility as an artist, as a person, as an educated person, and spiritually as well, trying for peace first,&#8221; she said. &#8220;There were so many other options, that war should have been the last, not the first &#226;&#128;&#166; so maybe rallying for peace instead, valuing one human life per person, would somehow make a difference.&#8221;

To date, Krilanovich has tattooed over thirty individuals. The tattoos are free and written backwards on the skin in size 18 courier font. The names are written in English so that they will always be readable to English speakers. The client chooses the name, color and placement of the tattoo.

Most names are selected from &#8220;,&#8221; where one can find a list of civilian casualties and a short profile.

A few months after beginning the project, two women approached Krilanovich with an unusual request&#194;&#173;&#8212;they wanted a tattoo, but it was American soldiers, not Iraqi civilians, that they wanted to commemorate on their bodies. Krilanovich found herself in a bit of a dilemma.

&#8220;At that point I felt like [the Iraqis] were the real victims,&#8221; Krilanovich said. &#8220;But [the women] had their own reasons why [they wanted American soldiers]. They felt like these people had been promised a great future and who otherwise had no opportunities.

They didn’t think they’d actually be killing anybody&#8212;they were kind of victims themselves.&#8221; She added triumphantly, &#8220;And that’s where I think it’s an opportunity for discussion.&#8221;

Jennifer Gonzalez is a professor of history of art and visual culture at UCSC, and teaches a course entitled &#8220;Activist Art since 1960.&#8221; She offered some insight on the effects of Living Memorials Tattoo Project.

&#8220;Visual art can be particularly important for social activism because it works at the level of ocular impact, which is a mode of engagement that many people in this age of television and cinema find particularly appealing,&#8221; she wrote in an email to City On A Hill Press. &#8220;Therefore, many social movements have learned that a well-placed image can have as much ideological impact as door-to-door canvassing, letter writing, or marching in the streets.&#8221;

Gonzalez touched briefly on intellectual power involved in the project. &#8220;What seems particularly moving about the project &#226;&#128;&#166; is that the trace of the death of an Iraqi citizen is permanently inscribed on the body of an American, so that the American can, if you will, take symbolic responsibility for that death.&#8221;

Gonzalez finished with a puzzling thought. &#8220;But the question remains: if the tattoo is hidden on the body &#226;&#128;&#166; is it only the person who was tattooed who undergoes the experience of the art project, or do other people also become aware of the project via some other form of publicity?&#8221;

Krilanovich would like to do both. She has hopes of expanding the project to involve other tattoo artists and eventually deliver it to the public, either through a book or an art show.

As for right now, however, she if focused on uniting people, one tattoo at a time.

&#8220;I think it’s perfect for nowadays,&#8221; Krilanovich said. &#8220;[We connect] in an electronic way but not in a physical way. And I think this is really just bringing it back down to blood and death and one on one, a warm living human body being a memorial for another.&#8221;

Gray agrees. &#8220;It’s the larger concept,&#8221; she said. &#8220;I can never fully grasp it. I have his name, but it doesn’t come anywhere near grasping what he personally was, what he went through.&#8221;

But she remains hopeful. &#8220;I think it’s about getting people moving in a forward direction or at least thinking in a forward direction to get people out of this thing we’re in now.&#8221;

* * *

&#8220;Our nation has, to a great degree, lost hope; but we haven’t lost all hope,&#8221; Vecchione said. &#8220;Art is generative. Every poem is a praise poem, no matter how bleak it is. If you weren’t at some level praising the fact that you’re alive, that you have the opportunity to write, to respond, you wouldn’t bother to write the poem.&#8221;

She continued. &#8220;To those of us who see the war on television from the comfort of an armchair, the war is an abstraction, it’s not in our town, we don’t hear the bombs. What art can do is to take an abstraction and make it real. It can take what’s distant and bring it close.&#8221;

And this is what Krilanovich is doing taking the war, its casualties, and pro-peace movements a little bit closer.

&#8220;I think by nature to be human means to love,&#8221; Vecchione concluded. And while loving today may seem difficult, it is empowering to know that there individuals who will help guide the way.